I went next door and asked Paul if I could borrow his bike; he graciously obliged, and lent me a ball cap and his helmet as well. I set off down the road into town, and then turned right to go up the hill to Millerton. And when I say up, I mean up. Nothing but up, actually. For six kilometres. I rode as far up as I could, and then alternated riding with walking. The road is steep and windy, and to further complicate matters coal trucks and mining employees reguualrly race up and down, cutting corners, making hairpin turns, and generally not expecting to round a corner and see a girl riding a bike (because let's face it, few are insane enough to ride a bike up that hill). At least parts of it were amusing: as I climbed higher I kept getting better and better views of the ocean, and in one part of the road that has been blasted out of the cliffs, someone has stuck a sign reading "Grand Canyon" underneath the one warning of falling rock and "No Stopping Next 500m".
|Up... and up.... and up...|
|I love Kiwi humour.|
|It's hard to get the perspective of this photo; the sides of the|
"Grand Canyon" are a lot higher than they look!
|Looking north toward the current active coal mines.|
|At the top of the hill at last. This way to Millerton!|
Millerton is no longer really a town, any more than somewhere like Maple Bay is a town; it's a collection of a few streets and homes, and thanks to the advent of cars to ascend and descend the hill, is now more of a suburb of Granity than a community in its own right. It was named after H. J. Millerton, one of the directors of the Dunedin-based Westport Coal Company, and opened in 1896 as a town for the miners of the Millerton mines and their families.
|"Napier Street" made me smile.|
|Ah, Kiwi humour strikes again.|
I took in the remains of the bath houses, which consisted of a dammed creek to form a resevoir, and a concrete pad lined with chambers on the walls facing each other, with a cast-iron boiler at the far end.
|The Millerton Mines bathhouses and resevoir|
|Retaining wall for the resevoir|
|A self-portrait from inside the bathhouse|
|Methinks the tubes may be a little rusty!|
|Remnants of the wood frames of the roof of the bathhouse|
|Imagine the miners hanging up their coal-blackened |
clothes here before stepping into the bathhouses
A little bit of the pipework could still be seen on top of the concrete walls as well. There were also remains of railway tracks and an old coal trolley leading toward the bathhouses. I find it somewhat ironic that the miners would come here after work to wash the coal off themselves, using hot water heated by... coal.
|A rusted boiler on its side|
|I walked across this bridge... it's stronger|
than it looks!
|A section of the Millerton Incline|
A sign proclaimed an "Escarpment Track: 90min Return" with a set of concrete steps leading up and away from the bath houses, so I decided to go have a look (my feet hate me; they still haven't recovered from the Heaphy Track).
|The start of the Escarpment Track|
The steps ended abruptly at an archway with the old Millerton Incline tracks running underneath. I can't figure out the purpose of the archway; my best guess is there was originally a road on top.
|Moss-covered rails... the incline is now a stream.|
Either way, the Escarpment Track continued up and over the arch, leading out into the open scrub brush on the side of the mountain (the rock in which the coal seams are encased is not condusive to supporting vegetation), and eventually up to another old structure that I assumed was the remains of a dam.
|The dam (?)|
|This area was labeled "Helicopter Pad". I'm not sure how|
many helicopters land here anymore!
About 150m farther up the mountain the track stopped abruptly; however, I had become obsessed with following some rusted metal piping, which I had seen yesterday running alongside the rail tracks of the Millerton Incline.
|Some of the metal pipes that commanded|
my obsessive attention
|Up and over the hill they go!|
I continued on up the mountain following these rusted pipes, a crazy journey that led me down into a deep gorge. I was getting very thirsty by this point, not having brought any water with me (let's not forget those 6km of uphill biking!), so I tried a small sip of the water. Ugh, it tasted sour and terrible! I decided thirst was a far better alternative, especially considering there is an active open cast mine upstream.
Scrambling up the other side of the gorge (using all my rock-climbing skills), I found myself on a series of plateaus, often marred by deep cracks in the surface, none of them very wide, but some extending down farther than I could see.
|One of several rock faces I scaled.|
|A rocky, barren outcropping illustrating the|
deep cracks in the ground
|Many of the cracks I couldn't see to the bottom of.|
|The dry, barren ground doesn't exactly support|
a lot of vegetation.
As I walked along one of the ridges near the gorge, I suddenly spotted a layer of black on the opposite bank: a coal seam! I scrambled to the edge to have a better look. I can understand why it was difficult to mine these seams in Millerton: rather than being in a nice straight line, the coal deposits here have been pushed upward by the plate tectonics of the region, and as such are broken and fragmented, and running on angles.
|My first glimpse of a coal seam|
|There it is! I wasn't expecting it to be so large and dramatic.|
|After scrambling down into the gorge I realised|
the "safe" ledge I had taken the photos of the
coal seam from was actually a precariously-
perched rocky outcropping!
Once again following the metal pipes, I found myself walking across barren, rocky land with the occasional rough road, and dotted with small plastic pipes sticking out of the ground. This intrigued me until I approached and rounded a sign (from the back end) which read: DANGER: Gas Hazard Zone. Restricted Access Beyond this Point. Oops. I later found out the plastic pipes are test drills, monitoring the levels of toxic gases coming out of the earth. Apparently, a coal fire has been burning underground at the Lonely Fan part of the mine since spontaneously starting in 1926, and continues to burn due to the large number of cracks and fissures in the ground. The more I hear about this area, the more amazed I am I walked away unscathed today! Incidentally, Fires in the mines are not uncommon: I found these accounts from a 1909 newspaper detailing a fire at Millerton.
|The fog started to roll in when I reached the plateaus. Off|
in the distance I could hear trucks and other equipment
working at the open-cast mine upstream.
|Discarded core samples|
Keeping to the supposedly "safe" side of the sign, I kept following the pipes down another incline, and, jackpot! I found the old mining site!
|My first glimpse of the old mining site ruins|
|Thank you, rusted pipes, for leading the way!|
It consisted of the dilapidated remains of two large buildings and three or so smaller ones; all that remains now are brick chimneys, cast iron boilers, rusting metal pipes. concrete foundations, and a large brick incinerator(?).
|Yes, I crawled inside it. And yes, I likely|
shouldn't have done that.
|Vegetation growing on the inside brick wall|
of the incinerator (?)
Beside several of the buildings sat piles of charred wood and rubble; I surmised the buildings were either damaged in a fire and then torn down, or deliberately burned. One of the buildings, however, had a few pieces of the wooden frame still standing attached to the foundation, and nailed to one of the beams was a horseshoe; still there after all these years.
|The horseshoe amid the ruins|
Below the horseshoe on the ground was a wooden box full of bolts and other metal bits hopelessly rusted together in a giant orange pile. It was somewhat surreal, even erie, to be walking around the site, knowing at one point it was a hive of activity, and now is barren and decaying.
|Oxidized together for eternity.|
|The bricks for the Millerton Mine buildings |
were made locally in Westport.
|Why do I always see signs *after* I've already tromped|
through an area?!
Near the buildings were several old mine shafts, their entrances now sealed off with protective plastic orange mesh. I walked up to one (close to a visible exterior coal seam on the face of the mountain) and peered inside; the roof had collapsed about twenty feet in, but at the entrance I could still see some wooden post supports and bolts drilled into the walls.
|A coal seam beside the Millerton Mine ruins|
|Standing on the coal seam|
|The entrance to one of the old mineshafts|
|Peering into an abandoned mineshaft|
|Wooden posts inside the mineshaft|
Hiking back out from the Millerton Mine site proved to be an ordeal and a half; it isn't meant to be accessible to the public anyway (there are no roads leading down to those ruins), so I had to pick my way up the side of the incline, and seeing as I couldn't walk back across what I now knew to be potentially deadly gas fields, I cut an unmarked track down the father side of the mountain, which entailed wading through acres of dense scrub brush and sliding down a rock face before ascending a near sheer rock cliff on the other side. I was very happy to finally come around the side and meet up with the Escarpment Track again, and make my way back down the mountain to the bath houses.
|I was so relieved to see this sign!|
|An abandoned coal cart on the side of the|
|Abandoned boilers on their sides|
|I'm not sure what this was. I found it just down the road|
from the bathhouses.
The one advantage of riding somewhere all uphill: going back is all downhill! I made one brief stop to look at a bridge and a section of the old highway up to Millerton (complete with a spectacular waterfall), but other than that it was nothing but brakes the whole way back to Granity. Whee!
|The art-deco-inspired bridge on the old highway|
|The old highway leading up to Millerton|
|The beautiful creek the bridge crosses|
The rest of my day was decidedly boring; I returned the bike to Paul, and thanked him for his generosity, then came back to Mary's house and started planning for tomorrow. I leave at 8:45am on the bus for Westport, and then I will be taking the Intercity bus to Greymouth, and staying there for two nights. I packed up all my belongings (it's amazing how quickly things can spread all over the place!), had dinner, had a shower, and now am (mostly) ready to go in the morning. Night!